Martin v. United States

586 F.2d 1206 (8th Cir. 1978)



The factual findings of the trial court are entitled to great weight; and under Fed. R. Civ. P. 52(a), the court must accept them unless they are clearly erroneous. This standard applies to reasonable inferences to be drawn from stipulated or undisputed facts, and it is for the trial court rather than the appellate court to draw legitimate and permissible inferences.


Appellee administrators of the estates of the men killed in a plane crash brought an action against the appellant United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act, claiming that the United States was liable for the negligence of air traffic controllers who, having communicated with the plane immediately prior to the crash, were acting within the scope of their employment with the Federal Aviation Administration. The district court entered judgment for the administrators, and the court affirmed. 


Were the findings of the trial court erroneous? 




The controllers were negligent in providing an erroneous barometric altimeter setting and failing to timely to update visibility and ceiling information. That negligence was the proximate cause of the plane crash during landing in inclement weather because (1)  the decision of the pilots to attempt a second approach and to descend below the minimum descent altitude was the reasonably foreseeable result of the controllers' negligence, and (2) had the pilots been aware of the deterioration in weather conditions, no second attempt at landing would have been made. The court remanded for a recalculation of one award based on a decedent's work life expectancy.

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